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Orphan Forced from Christian Home Highlights Islamic Ban on Adoption

Image: Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

Four years ago, Shenouda was an infant found at the door of a Coptic church. Today, renamed Yusuf, the boy is found in a state-run orphanage. In between lies the care of a priest, the devastation of a Christian family, and a sectarian bureaucracy undergoing partial reform.

Egypt is home to a Dickens-like tragedy.

“Adoption is not legal in Egypt,” said Nermien Riad, executive director of Coptic Orphans. “There is no possibility it will happen as known in the Western world.”

The boy’s family name and location have been kept anonymous as a cautionary measure, as reported by the Coptic publication Watani. Likely left by an unwed mother, the child was found by a Coptic priest who presented him to the couple, infertile for 29 years.

They took him into their home, obtained a birth certificate as if he was their own, and raised him with love and devotion. They gave him a Christian-signifying first name, honoring the prior Coptic Orthodox pope, and per Egyptian naming custom the four-generation quadrilateral was completed with the names of the doting father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.

All was idyllic, until a jealous niece realized the impact on her inheritance.

Egypt’s Islamic-based law, seeking to preserve lineage, prohibits taking another’s child as one’s own. The niece reported the couple to the police, who investigated. The prosecution determined there was no blood relation, but also no ill will.

The father signed a paper stating he found the child “on the street,” likely to shield the priest’s involvement. But though the case was dropped last February, the boy was taken to an orphanage. With no papers to prove his ancestry, he was assumed to be a Muslim—and thus forbidden to live with a Christian family—and given the religiously neutral name Yusuf, the Arabic equivalent of Joseph.

The desperate parents protested: What Muslim would leave their unwanted child at a church? Denied, they were even forbidden from visiting him in the orphanage. Their applications for employment at the facility were turned down. According to the Ministry of Social Solidarity, Egypt has…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on September 27, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

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